The Detroit Tigers didn’t do much on trade deadline day, but about 15 minutes before the 6:00 p.m. EDT cutoff for deals, they finally made one more move, sending reliever Michael Fulmer to the Minnesota Twins for minor league starter Sawyer Gipson-Long.
The veteran right-hander and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year has found new life post-UCL surgery as a late innings reliever. Fulmer has produced 0.8 fWAR with a 3.20 ERA and 3.22 FIP combination over 39.1 innings of work in 2022. Due to reach free agency at year’s end, the Tigers needed to get something for him, but as it turned out, they didn’t get much.
We’ve generally been positive about the Tigers’ player development system on the pitching side over the past couple years, and with good reason. However, Gipson-Long isn’t even ranked on most Minnesota Twins prospect lists. The 24-year-old was the Twins sixth rounder back in 2019. Now 24 years old, the 6’4”, 225 pound right-hander started the season well in High-A ball, but has really struggled in seven starts at the Double-A level. We would suspect that he’ll be converted to relief in the Tigers’ system. Perhaps that will work out, and we’ll do a deeper dive on him shortly, but he’s pretty unheralded at this point and Rule 5 eligible this offseason.
Gipson-Long is a solid strike thrower with a slider that FanGraphs gave an above average grade to in the preseason. He sits in the low-90’s as a starter, but should be able to amp that up to 94-95 mph in a dedicated relief role. The fastball is pretty hittable and will probably need some tweaks, but he does appear to spin the ball well, which is something the Tigers can work with. This is something the Tigers have gotten reasonably good at the past few years, and so if they weren’t able to land a legit prospect it makes some sense to take a project arm with some usable metrics on his stuff and try to improve him in a new role.
As for Fulmer, it is sad to see him go, but he’ll get a shot with a contender. The 29-year-old was once the face of the Tigers’ first effort to retool and get younger. As the organization crumbled, Fulmer’s career likewise stalled out due to multiple injury ridden seasons. He’ll reach free agency this offseason, so the Tigers could always bring him back for the right price. He’s been extremely effective against right-handers this season, but several rough outings recently presumably left general managers of contending teams only modestly interested.
The Tigers may well see Fulmer pitching against them as soon as tomorrow. The trip to his new club was conveniently located down the hall from the visitor’s clubhouse at Target Field.
This has been a pretty underwhelming deadline and that’s been par for the course in the Al Avila years. With as many issues as the Tigers have, it’s frustrating that they weren’t able to address a single one. On the other hand few will be surprised that this was the case. The market for relievers wasn’t as hot as it has been in other years, with plenty of teams looking to sell arms and contenders able to hold their better prospects and shop at their leisure. The Tigers didn’t seem particularly keen on trading their longer term options, and apparently didn’t get the kind of interest needed to change their minds.
Still, it’s a general manager’s job to solve problems and find value when others can’t, and there are a whole lot of problems left with this roster and no solutions as of yet. This is pretty far from the return of Reese Olson for a badly scuffling Daniel Norris last season, for example. That deal we highly praised in the context of small scale moves. However, after so many right-handed relievers were traded over the past 24 hours, the market for a good but unspectacular reliever just wasn’t there at the deadline, and the Tigers were unable to find any buyers for their pricier wares. And so, Fulmer and Robbie Grossman will get a chance to win a ring elsewhere, while the Tigers were unable to do much to improve the club for the future.